So, I think my growing spending discipline is spilling over into other areas of my life. And I like it. Actually, I need it.
Because of food.
Backtrack four years and I was the happiest little piglet on the block – my boyfriend feeding me huge bowls of pasta (he makes an AMAZING anchovy spaghetti sub-fry that I still dream about), Ukrainian potato things and loads of crumbed stuff. Once a week we “treated” ourselves to fish & chips or a huge Lebanese feast. We usually drank a bottle or two of red a night as well. Those were the heady days where I could eat anything I wanted, allergically speaking. Or at least thought I could. And it showed.
Fast forward to today and I now know I am Coeliac and can’t eat dairy. Goodbye every single thing that’s fun to eat.
And it’s getting worse. A few weeks ago I was trying some paleo baking when a big blob of mixed yeast and water dropped on my arm. I didn’t notice it, just kept cooking. I was scratching the same place a lot and when I finally rinsed the skin there was a big, red, itchy, angry welt where the yeast had been. Undeterred, I figured I might only react on the outside, and happily ate my English muffins (Brittany Angell, you genius). I was desperately ill for two days.
Goodbye all the breads ever.
So, I tried making my own almondflour flat bread but was still reacting. Also to coconut and cauliflower – two of the main paleo diet staples.
In the meantime, my mother was placed on a lowFODMAP diet by her doctor. Most of the things she had to cut out were things that I had discovered I was also reacting to – coconut water, cauliflower, garlic. It’s not that complicated to identify what’s troubling you when you can only eat about ten things.
So now, I am eating on a paleo lowFODMAP food plan, seeing how I go. Just until I heal my gut after the years and years of antibiotics (infected tonsils and calcified lymph nodes and bad asthma) that wiped out its friendly bacteria colonies. I am not sure why this is happening now, but maybe its just years and years of poor diet, binge drinking and medication catching up.
So for now, its goodbye restaurants or anyone cooking me dinner, ever. The last time someone tried was Christmas eve. Everyone else had pasta and I had a bowl of walnuts, lettuce leaves and cranberries. Sadly, now I can’t even eat the cranberries.
To make things worse, I am about to start the Whole Life Challenge and have to eliminate alcohol and things like french fries – the last bastion of eating out goodness for me.
For all the joy eating brings me at the moment, I might as well be fed intravenously. No, that’s not fair. There is still endless variety in all the meats, most of the vegetables, and some herbs and spices. And thank baby cheeses that whiskey is lowFODMAP.
One of my aims is to have healed enough to eat relatively normally on a trip to Amsterdam with friends in April. Ok, it will still be gluten- and dairy-free, but I simply won’t be able to eliminate anything else. So all my focus is on gut-healing: loads of turmeric, kombucha, sauerkraut, probiotics, gelatin, bone-broth, grass-fed meats and no alcohol.
If I’d been given all this news at once, four years ago, I would probably have gone into a bakery and eaten myself to death. Wrapped myself in pastry, dipped myself in chocolate and fed myself to the wolves. Or at least collapsed in a heap asking “why me?”
I do admit to feeling a boiling envy of people who can just go out and order anything on the menu. Never, ever take that for granted.
But I’ve put my big girl pants on and I’m just going with it. I don’t even think about cheating because that would only hurt me. I stick even more tightly to my workout and cooking schedule and make extra time for careful menu-planning. I allow myself to buy whatever ingredients I want, because basically there’s nothing more important than health to spend my money on.
The similarly-afflicted community I have found on Instagram of all places is simply amazing. If you have any kind of eating challenge, type it in and SOMEONE is making recipes just for you. With pictures. And cheering you on as you choke down your beet greens.
And yes, I am losing weight. Other good things seem to be happening too, like skin getting tighter, more hair on my head and eyebrows (which I find weird) and orange-peel legs smoothing out. But I would be a liar if I said I would not trade all benefits in a second for a huge burger, pizza and ice cream.
Good thing for discipline, huh?
It’s just about a month since I committed to not spending. I haven’t seen any benefits yet (see previous post for reasons why), but I feel inordinately proud of myself…for a person who has achieved nothing at all!
But I do have a slight confession to make.
Past Sian had ordered and paid for a couple of skirts from H&M. They subsequently got put on back-order and she forgot them. They were delivered last week. Now, after unpacking them, Present Sian realised she wasn’t that into them any more, so sent them back.
That should, I guess, technically speaking, have been money that I just plugged off my debt. However! I needed a new pair of shoes for a wedding. Hear me out! This was not just “I have nothing to wear” it was literally “I only have motorcycle boots or flip-flops and neither are appropriate footwear for a wedding where I will meet my boyfriend’s family for the first time.”
So I bought a pair of appropriate, lady-like, please let me keep sleeping with your son type shoes. I came out even, financially speaking, so I technically did not spend anything…even though I bought something.
What do you think? Did I cheat??
Further to this, would people please stop inventing cool shit? I just saw this on Kickstarter: the memobottle. Is “donating” to Kickstarter in return for a copy of the product being developed, classified as spending? Is it? I’ve decided to refrain at the moment, but holy hell, if you start looking around that site, you end up with your purse wide open before you even know what you’re doing. People are amazing!
I have also started attempting to trick my brain into thinking it’s spending, by building up a virtual wardrobe. After being introduced to the concept of Capsule Wardrobes over at Un-Fancy, I have decided to use my year of financial celibacy to perfect the idea and get a better sense of my style. And the great part is, I can do it without spending money!
I scoured online shops and selected the 37 pieces she recommends for a good capsule (“9 pairs of shoes, 9 bottoms, and 15 tops…2 dresses and 2 jackets/coats”), and pinned them to a pinterest board I started for the purpose. Then I added the pictures to an app I already had on my phone – Stylicious. The app lets you classify the clothes into tops, bottoms and shoes, and then scroll through the 3 layers on 3 wheels to mix and match until you find a combination you like. You then clip them together and you’ve got an outfit! Here are my ongoing efforts, but please don’t laugh at my inability to crop!
And lastly an update on the story of the worst neighbours and landlady ever. I STILL do not have my bond back, and they are STILL in discussions about the rental contract. Honestly, the fucking Kyoto Protocol was signed in less time than this!
Please keep your fingers crossed for me – or, as they do in German, your thumbs pressed!
So, this is quite a personal post, but I’m in a safe place here. Because it’s my place.
This paycheck represents, financially, the cumulation of everything that’s been happening over the last couple of months. The move, the double rent, shelling out for bond and STILL not having the old bond back, plane tickets that needed to be bought, furniture required for the new place and a couple of purchases I made in the eleventh hour.
Basically, it’s all hit my account at once.
And that account looks quite ill. I know what will happen. I will need to use my credit card for buying groceries and some day-to-day stuff. My very helpful bank manager will call me to point out I’m in the red. I will be mortified. I will phone my old landlady and ask when the hell the bond is coming back to me. She will probably tell me I need to pay another month’s rent because of the unresolved saga of the two stupidest and most stubborn parties who ever tried to sign a contract in the world. I will get stressed. I will fret and lose sleep. And everything will seem worse and more embarrassing.
But even in the depths of this, right now anyway, I feel more positive than I have before, or would usually. Because I am doing something about it. Because this is the bottom, and it’s not anywhere close to the bottom some people have to face every single day. Because I have a great job with steady income and supportive friends and an amazing family. Because I have a cozy roof over my head, I can nourish myself, I am warm, I have clean water, I have luxuries. Because as of next paycheck, things get easier. Because there won’t be another month like this, ever. Because I get to take the trips I’ve paid for, and visit one of my best friends in Finland before her baby girl arrives…well, sometimes these things happen earlier than expected, and whenever she comes it will be a huge blessing. Because even if I can’t buy new things, I have many more things than I will ever really need.
So because of all of that, in the middle of what is the hardest month for me (and yes, I do realise there are children starving in Africa and that half the world has gone mad), I feel positive.
Just kidding. About the amen bit. I am an athiest.
Also, let’s talk about the picture at the top. It was supposed to represent emergence and was called “Hope Springs Eternal” on the site…but then once I added it I realised the html actually labels it “Monster” and also it looks like a vagina. So, I’m leaving it where it is.
Also again, I have another blog! It’s for all the stuff that didn’t quite fit here. Come on over, it’s a friendly place.
“Rag-and-bone man” used to be an actual job. Men who collected and sold scraps that could be useful in repairing things. Like in the old British TV show, Steptoe and Son. We used to call my grandfather Steptoe. He hoarded every nail and skerrick and could repair anything at all with a piece of masking tape. Including his own spectacles which he wore proudly and unashamedly with a large piece of wheat-coloured tape across the nose bridge. For about ten years.
He’d have thought it was hilarious that people paid to buy pre-ripped jeans, sandblasted to a worn finish. What’s the point of buying them like that? They’ll end up like that if you have them long enough. This was a man who was immaculately groomed. I mean, he wore trousers with braces and knee socks to the beach. He took great pride in his appearance and always looked like a proper gentleman. Like a fashion grandpa. Even with the glasses. And he fixed his shit if it broke. The TV he had was an old cathode-ray with bunny ears balancing in an unlikely position. He knew just where to smack it if the signal got bad. No point replacing it, worked fine.
I guess these rag-and-bone jobs and people still exist, but not in any developed country I’ve lived in. Mostly because no-one repairs anything anymore. Factory labour means production is cheap, sometimes nasty and often easier to go out and replace than to repair.
A couple of years ago my stepdad, another rag and bone man on a biblical scale, came to visit me not long after I’d moved here. I had paid 20euro for a bicycle but it was a bit shit and I was thinking about replacing it.
“No,” he said firmly. “You can easily fix this.” He went to the euro store and bought me a couple of essentials, and we had a long lesson in bike fixing on the verandah while Ma sipped tea and I think read 50 Shades of Grey. This man is MacGuyver. He’s Indiana Jones. I learned how to reattach a slipped chain, how to widen the distance between the front and back wheels, how to align the handlebars and how to service the brakes. It made me feel wholesome and self-sufficient.
And I’ve been doing it a bit more often at the moment. My black boots wore down to the stump and they’ve been sitting in my closet for about 18 months while I searched online for a similar pair. I’ve finally put them in to be reheeled.
The magnetic clasp on my handbag shattered and it didn’t close properly, so I bought some superglue and I’ve put it back together instead of using the excuse to buy a new one. I dropped the spoon holder my Ma bought me from her trip in Malta. It’s been bonded back together and works just fine.
I don’t know if I will go as far as taping my glasses if I sit on them again, but it has made me realise that not everything needs to be immediately replaced with a new version.
Nope, not a dance routine. No-one needs to see what happens when the holy disco spirit enters me. Let’s just say it’s very white.
The year before I moved to Munich, I worked on an intense project with one of the best groups of people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. We put in long, hard hours and since there was a bar right under the office we often ended up drinking sometimes three nights a week. It wasn’t FOMO, it (probably wasn’t) alcoholism or peer pressure – we just loved hanging out.
But it meant I had no routine. I was frequently hungover, I never prepared food for the following day, I gained weight and lost energy and my relationship suffered. Money was also pouring through my fingers, wasted on taxis, drinks, bar snacks and lunch each day.
Around that time, I started to think I might benefit from at least some kind of routine. Don’t get me wrong, if I don’t see several blank days in my calendar each week – for spontaneity, nights I just want to be alone, time to meet friends, days I want to take advantage of the weather and walk and be outside – I start to panic and feel claustrophobic.
But several things happen to me, especially here in Munich, if I do not have a routine.
1. I don’t cook. I haven’t been cooking that long, but I am learning slowly and enjoying the process. (My boyfriend and friends who are regularly the guinea pigs might be less keen!) But Munich is a city where coeliac’s disease is all but unknown. You can find selected GF items in the expensive stores, and there are two pizza restaurants that cater to us. But if you go to a run-of-the-mill wirtshaus (traditional guesthouse) or restaurant and start asking about ingredients, you’re not going to be popular.
“No,” I’ve been snapped at several times, “there’s no breadcrumbs in the sausages. Of course not!” And then I try to explain in my broken German that it’s not just that, it’s most grains, most sauces, any bread, soy sauce, etc. I feel princessy. I get a “look” and then my sausages will come without sauce as requested…accompanied by a fat slice of bread or a salad with croutons. Or the chicken in my carefully selected salad will be crumbed. Or the fresh fish will be dipped in flour before being slapped on the grill, despite the waiter’s assurance that won’t happen. I often become desperately sick after I eat out. And our company canteen is the worst. They even marinate the salad vegetables in something I can’t have.
So if I don’t have time to cook, I really suffer. I’d never deliberately eat something with gluten in it but the hungrier I get, the more desperate and willing to try I get. And until people here learn more about coeliac’s disease, I’m only really safe if I cook for myself.
2. I don’t work out. I am not what you would call a natural exerciser. In fact, there’s almost nothing I won’t do to avoid it. I have had adult tantrums because the car was parked too far from the supermarket. My sister and I have a joke that she’s Sporty Spice and I’m Library Spice. She surfs, skates, snowboards, skis, runs and yogas. And I…don’t. Virtually the only reason I ever put sweatpants on (aside from they’re super-comfy after you’ve eaten too much) is because I have a desk job and I know how unhealthy that is.
But until I discovered CrossFit, the only thing I liked to do was swim. In fresh or saltwater. In landlocked Munich…that’s kinda hard. My skin reacts badly with chlorine and there are obviously no ocean baths here like there are at home. (The most beautiful place to swim in the entire world is posted above. Merewether Baths, Newcastle, NSW, Australia. Part of my heart swims there every day. It’s incidentally the subject of the only painting I ever did, which miraculously sold).
I have to plan my workout nights in advance and just shuffle everything else around them, or its too easy to think I’ll get to it later in the week. Of course, I can be flexible, but if I have my “nights”, friends understand that I’m not available then, or not until after I’ve worked out (and, for everyone’s benefit, showered).
3. I don’t work on my goals. Writing. Improving my German. End of (current) list. I’ve had the outline of a novel ready for the last two years. I’ve finish exactly one and a half chapters. I always said that once I earned my living through writing, I’d be happy. But I’m not. I love my job. But ghostwriting for our CEO about how the reinsurance industry can protect itself against the rising rate of natural catastrophes is not filling my creative boots. Writing makes me happy, keeps me company, gives me a sense of achievement that nothing else does. But there’s still a tendency in me to choose drinking with friends over a night at home working on my stuff.
I never really wanted to spend time in my old apartment. It was over 100 years old and musty, damp and dark due to faulty overhead wiring. It was bitterly cold even in Summer. So now that I’m happy as a piglet in my new place, I’m testing a new routine:
Monday: Groceries get delivered (which keeps me out of temptation in the supermarket). I clean the apartment, cook several meals and freeze the leftovers for work during the week. 1 hour of writing.
Tuesday: Crossfit, 1 hour of writing.
Thursday: Crossfit, 1 hour of writing.
Saturday: Crossfit in the morning. Rest of the day free.
And the bi-product of all of this? I’ll not only be healthier and happier, I’ll be saving money. A night at the gym is a night I’m not out drinking and being forced to gamble on bar snacks. Having groceries delivered is the perfect, non-negotiable excuse to be at home and preparing for my week.
And I’ll be moving closer each day to my goals. Win-win-win.
Hooray for routines! Do you have one? Or can you wing it and fly by your pants-seat?
This is my cute new little apartment (not the best picture. And ignore the packing boxes on the balcony – they get collected next week). I feel like I am living in a treehouse! It’s incredibly quiet and peaceful and green and warm and solidly built. It’s pretty small, at 45sqm (484 square feet), but feels quite big to me. And I bought a bit of new furniture for it too. The high-backed arm chair and matching footstool, along with some new shelving for the kitchen, and the yellow overhead lights. Beautiful.
And then I started my year without spending…
And this morning I realised, crap! I don’t have anything on the walls. No nice shelves, no pretty artwork, no big unusual clock. I could also use a third overhead light in the middle of the room, as it’s a little dark over the arm chair which is where I have been doing my writing when it’s cold outside.
And Kmart in Australia decided to produce some gorgeous, really affordable furniture. This shelf below is only $29! Australian dollars! That’s about 15euro. And I need it! I genuinely need something on the walls.
Oh my goodness. This would go so perfectly in my new apartment.
So I have taken a deep breath and decided to think about alternatives.
I have a stack of my Instagram pictures printed on card. I can tack these onto the walls above the bed or sofa. Or perhaps use some twine and paperclips and string them into a nice design.
I also unearthed my old cuckoo clock! I can mount it and make a nice feature of it.
And I have two standing lamps in the living room…I can just shuffle one a little closer to the armchair when I write.
There are going to be other solutions. But I hadn’t expected this to be so hard already just three days in!! I definitely would have tried to find something similar to the round shelf, or had my family post it to me from Australia. I would have tried to find something on the local Amazon.de. Oh dear…like these honeycomb shelves. These would look great with some white ivy hanging out of them.
Ok! I gotta run – I have some tacking to do!
Shit just got real, yo. It’s begun. Wasn’t off to the best start after I did several stupid things in a row:
– Sat on my glasses
– Turned on the iron while it was still in its protective plastic (messy. not recommended).
– Dropped my bikini trimmer from a great height and smashed it to smithereens (I refuse to grow…”it” out)
But with those hiccups in the rearview, off we go!
I have of course already found several things that I desperately want and would definitely have bought myself if not for this new resolve. Yesterday after my dermatologist appointment, I sat myself in the little “prepare your face for public consumption room” and slathered the most beautiful, creamy, light, dewy makeup over my skin. I hadn’t even been in there for my face (I’ve had an outbreak of reactive dermatitis on my hands – HOT!) but the bottle looked pretty and the room is adjacent to the toilet, so I tried it. It was perfectly matched to my skin tone and evened out all my blemishes. It made my dry skin look moist and radiant. I was like me, just better! I photographed the bottle and colour number and set off for the nearest store…and then remembered. I’m Scrooge McDuck now. I can’t have it. I have five other bottles of perfectly good makeup in my overflowing bathroom cabinet. Once they’re all gone, and only once they’re all REALLY gone, will I allow myself to buy this.
Then I got a notification from my favourite online store telling me a clothing item on my wish list had been reduced in price! OMG! It’s like, 25% cheaper now than it was the first time I wanted it! And I still want it! No. Instead I dutifully deleted my entire wish list…a little part of me dying with every click.
Then I finished reading this great book by Mary Roach and decided to read some of her other stuff! She’s got a book on the Alimentary Canal!* She edited the 2011 edition of the Best American Science and Nature Writing! No! You can’t have them. Sit down and go through your bookshelves again. There are most definitely books there that you’ve bought and haven’t read yet!
Sigh. It’s going to be a looong ride. Life can be really hard in a wealthy first-world country with no social issues and comparative gender equality for a steadily-employed girl in full health and happiness, don’t you think? Just gonna have to tough it out!
*It has been helpfully pointed out to me several times that I have strange taste in reading material. I don’t think it can be that strange when Stiff was a #1 best seller. But if your tastes run the same way, here are some others I have LOVED. Would appreciate any recommendations too…for me to buy next year, of course 😉
I am reporting to you from the office (slow day, promise) because OMG I DON’T HAVE THE INTERNET AT HOME. There was some kind of confusion as to whether the new apartment needed a new modem. People came, people went, a lot of beeps were made, signals tested, things unscrewed (including my sanity)…and in the end, I apparently still need another part. That they will post. Via snail mail!
I have gone through 650MB of data on my cell, in FOUR days. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, I’m suffering. I’m really suffering. No BBC radio in the mornings, no dailymail (did the Kim Kardashian meltdown REALLY happen?), no blogs(!!), no spotify, no (ahem) totally legally watching my favourite shows online, lots of going cross-eyed trying to read long news items on a small screen, and mostly – no online shopping.
Which I guess is good because it’s T minus 4 days. Whatever I have not purchased by Sunday 10th August, simply does not get purchased. Well, for the next 12 months anyway. It’s scaring me, actually. I’m having doubts as to whether I can actually do it. As to whether it’s a good idea…then I look at my bank statements and I know it is. Something needs to change drastically, or I’ll end up like that woman who swears she can live off air alone.
I may or may not have been panic-shopping. Sort of at the same magnitude as people who believe in the zombie apocalypse, or the collapse of society after the Y2K bug (remember that whole thing?). I needed new boots, I needed new stockings to get me through the winter here, I needed overhead lights for the new place, and couldn’t the flower pots do with replacing? and and.
I realised I could pretty much keep finding excuses to stretch it out endlessly. And that there is no way to pre-account for every single possibility I will come across in the course of 12 months! I’m just going to have to make do, push the boat out, take the leap, metaphor, metaphor. So I have drawn the line in the shopping mall tiles, and from August 10th, 2014 to August 10th, 2015 these rules will apply.
I have a feeling I’m going to need my hand held. Everyone, clear your schedules.
Oh, and PS. In case you haven’t heard, I’m kind of a big deal around here. 😉
So today, I was innnocently researching global reinsurance buying strategies (my job is clearly better than yours), when I took a tiny pause. During that pause, I flicked facebook open. During the time I had it open, my eyes landed on a perfectly targetted ad. Then while I was innocently staring at the ad, my finger clicked on it. I took a cute little quiz about where I work out, my body shape and favourite colours, and before I knew it I was packing my credit card away after securing a FULL new workout outfit for 35eu. I know! Bargain, right?
WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!
We all struggle with self-control, I know that. For some people it’s food, for some alcohol, gambling, drugs and the good lord only knows what else. For me, clearly, it’s online shopping. I was on auto-pilot the whole time. I didn’t think twice about it. And it would be ok if it happened once or twice, but it happens all the time.
So, right after I had selected the “Tahiti” workout combo, I did some research on self-control, and on keeping presence of mind.
Willpower’s controled by the pre-frontal cortex
Front of head. Inside skull. First third of grey matter. That’s the chap. Things like sleep deprivation and poor diet can affect this area, which also contains emotional responses (“Hangry”ness, anyone?). Stress draws energy away from it too, so maintaining stress better has the knock-on benefit of improving willpower and self-control. Which sounds like medical grounds for time off work, if you ask me.
It runs out!
Scarily, it seems willpower can be used up. Apparently for me, this happened sometime shortly after birth. But using the “muscle” analogy (which pretty much everything I read did), this means it can be exercised, built up and improved. Like my little biceps at a crossfit session. ONE day, I will be able to do a pull-up, and also not buy stuff. I will become the Arnold Schwarzenegger of not shopping.
You should pick one thing to work on
And take little baby steps towards it. Little, baby, baby steps. Everything said that taking too many goals on at once just confuses your brain and uses up all the willpower from the willpower well.
I have been waiting until I moved into my new apartment before starting this challenge, because there may genuinely be things I need for it. I move on August 2. I plan to start the following week.
I just hope I’m not in jail for bankruptcy before then.
Oh, and just in case online shopping isn’t your kryptonite (and you live in Germany), http://www.fabletics.de have an introductory offer of 50% off your first purchase, plus a grouping discout on 3 items…or something. My German’s still a little dicey. Here’s “Tahiti” for you. You’re welcome.